Unusually for TWR in this edition we focus on the work of one artist: Neil Campbell. Neil is a Liverpool musician whom I was blissfully unaware of until an introduction to him from Karda Estra’s main man, Richard Wileman and a meeting with Neil himself at which he kindly provided me with the albums I am about to review. So, on with the show as they say…
The first of these is the Neil Campbell Collective album, Particle Theory. Here we get to see the more experimental side of Neil’s music and anyone with a hankering for King Crimson will easily relate to this one. There is much use of a wide variety of different instrumentation from guitar and bass to horns and even the Celtic harp of Stan Ambrose on two tracks. The result is a scintillating album of music that runs through a whole range of moods and atmospheres. There is no set programme to it, and so you can bring the full weight of your own imagination to bear on it which is as the best music should be.
Neil Campbell Collective: Particle Theory NCCD005 (2007).
Next up is Neil’s 2008 album: Ghost Stories. As its title would suggest, this one is of a much more dark cast. Excellent use of electronics provided by Michael Beiert and the ethereal voice of Anne Taft bring us a soundtrack in the making for this is most assuredly he kind of music that would easily find its home in any modern suspense or horror drama or film. Just like the best of these, the horror is implicit rather than explicit which once again, leaves us, the listeners, and if you listen to this on a dark night with a gale blowing outside with the lights off, or better still, by candelight, it will scare the bejasus out of you!
Neil Campbell: Ghost Stories. NCCD006. 2008.
Moving on a year we see the re-issue of a 2003 album: Through The Looking Glass (Remixed, Remastered & Expanded) as the title tells us. Here we have an entirely different side to Neil’s music with the emphasis being firmly placed on the acoustic guitar and the result is a true delight. Despite the title, there is no evident programme to the music here but instead a series of delightful vignettes . Neil’s command of the instrument is simply stunning and this is one album that will definitely appeal to fans of the acoustic music of the likes of Steve Hackett and Anthony Phillips. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the music here is the equal of any from those two masters and I do not say that lightly, folks!
Neil Campbell: Through The Looking Glass (Remixed, Remasterd & Expanded) NCCD007 2003/09.
Next up is Neil’s 2012 album with his partner, Perri Alleyne-Hughes ; Then. Once again a completely different offering to those that have gone before it. This is an album of songs in which the magical voice of Perri is interwoven with Neil’s equally magical guitar work. Perri’s voice is both soulful and bright and here we have some truly remarkable songs such as the wonderful portrait of a mother’s love for her children; Both Of You and the deliciously elegiac, Clouds. If there was any justice this album would be on everyone’s lips as it is a bona fide classic and I love it!
Perri & Neil: Then. PANCD001. 2012.
Covering someone else’s music can be a nightmare and when you decide to cover work by two of the twentieth century’s best known minimalist composers, well you have to know what you are doing. I admit that I am not an aficionado of the music of either Steve Reich or Philip Glass and so I came to this album with some small degree of trepidation. I need not have worried, in the hands of Neil and his cohort Carlo Bowry, the result is a genuine delight. Metamorphosis is Glass’s solo piano suite and it can’t have been easy to transcribe this for acoustic and electric guitar, but it works extremely well. The minimalist style will never be my favourite form of music but this could become a regular staple. I have no idea how fans of the original have reacted to this, but I found the end result deeply satisfying. Acoustic Counterpoint, is one of Reich’s best known pieces and once again, it is given a thoughtful and respectful treatment by Neil. If imitation is the sincerest for m of flattery, then I assume that Messrs Glass and Reich must be feeling quite flattered by this one and if a cover makes you curious about the original, then it has done more than it has any right to expect and this one certainly does that in spades!
Philip Glass: Metamorphosis/Steve Reich: Acoustic Counterpoint. CBR001. 2013.
Neil’s other sometime project, Bulbs also released an album in 2013. The humorously titled, On. Here we have another grand melange of musical styles from jazz and fusion to rock and all stops in between. An adventurous and challenging album this one sits somewhere between the classic work of King Crimson and Al di Meola and that takes some doing and is an indication of the quality of the musicianship on display here.
Bulbs: On. BULB001. 2013.
2014 saw the release of Neil’s Tabula Rasa Suite, an intriguingly titled suite of music, in which there is no set programme or thematic idea and so the listener is very much left to draw their own conclusions. An album similar in scope and breadth to Anthony Phillips’ album, Twelve, the use of sound effects, rain, thunder, children’s voices in the background only serves to heighten the intrinsic beauty and delicacy of the superb performance from Neil on classical guitar. The classical theme is underpinned by Neil’s interpretations of three of Erik Satie’s famous Gymnopedies bringing the album to a suitably delicate close.
Neil Campbell: Tabula Rasa Suite NCCD009. 2014.
Neil’s most recent offering is 2015’s eMErgence album. An entirely different offering this one, with abroad palette of electronic effects underpinned by some impressive guitar work by Neil himself and the equally impressive rhythm section of Roger Gardiner (bass) and Viktor Nordberg (drums) and the wonderfully haunting and emotional vocals of Perri Alleyne- Hughes on vocals on several tracks. I am guessing from the title and the references to the work of physicist Albert Einstein (MC2 and E= anyone?) that there is some underlying programme to this one but it is sufficiently open-ended once again to allow your own imagination to take over. Either way, the end result is another highly polished and satisfying effort.
And there you have it. Within these albums there is something for everyone and to think that Neil has been creating all of this practically on my doorstep really beggars belief!
For further information on Neil’s albums and current activities, check out www.neilcampbell.org.uk
Next up is something of a trip down memory lane for me. Fans of Mike & The Mechanics will know the name Sad Café? Well, at long last that mighty band’s seminal live album has been issued on CD. Now, anyone who had the great pleasure of seeing the band in concert will know just how good a live band they were. Their studio offerings seldom matched the heights of their gigs as this release proves. Here you get Sad Café at their very best with all the best known songs and others which were every bit as excellent all rolled into one two disc set. For anyone who never had the pleasure of seeing the band live, this is the next best thing, and for me it is even more pleasurable because I was at one of the gigs that this show is drawn from - great stuff!
Sad Café: Live In Concert Cherry Red Records CDLEMD221.
Seth Lakeman is no stranger to the pages of TWR and having recently released a brand new album: Ballads Of The Broken Few, I thought it only fair to pen a few words about it. Seth has departed form his usual brand of Devon based English folk and has embraced the American country style for this one. Accompanied by Wildwood Kin (not a name known to me I’m afraid) this one really doesn’t hit the spot with me. A little too country perhaps. Also the overall tone of the album is extremely downbeat which is something unusual for an album by Lakeman. I think this one will be grower, but a very slow one this time round but you can’t have a bullseye every time now, can you?
Seth Lakeman: Ballads Of The Broken Few. Cooking Vinyl COOKCD644.
Most of the readers of TWR readership will be familiar with one or more of the multitude of Genesis tribute bands which have sprung up all around the world in the last twenty or so years. Here in the UK we are fortunate to be well provided for with bands covering most aspects of the band’s career including Los Endos who have released a rather nifty little live DVD from their recent gig in Whitley Bay. Punningly titled Prog On The Tyne this serves as a showcase for the band’s talents and as someone who has followed their antics from their very first gig I can say categorically that the band have come on in leaps and bounds. Professionally put together, with excellent sound (courtesy of TWR’s very own web master: Stuart Barnes) and lighting with thoroughly enjoyable performances of several of Genesis’ classics which any fan will enjoy.
Los Endos: Prog On The Tyne. (www.losendos.co.uk)
The Gift are also no strangers to the pages of TWR. I have been proud to have followed their progress (!) since a chance meeting with their lead singer, Mike Morton at a Los Endos gig funnily enough, back in 2007. The band are now on to their third album following on from their 2006 debut, Awake And Dreaming, and 2014’s Land Of Shadows. Their latest effort< Why The Sea Is Salt has just been released and has been gaining plaudits among prog fans and with critics alike but now is the time for it to be given the TWR treatment…
The album opens with At Sea, a suite of five pieces, led by what can only be described as a Debussy-esque piano intro before the rest of the band gradually join in. A veritable tour-de-force with some magnificent playing from David Lloyd and Leroy James. There are echoes of a few other bands here but the whole is entirely The Gift’s own.
Sweeper Of Dreams (I love that title) and Tuesday’s Child, are brilliant musical pen pictures the former brilliantly evokes all our waking nightmares, those horrid dreams that haunt our tortured souls whilst the latter is a delightful musing on love lost and lives irrevocably changed featuring some phenomenal guitar playing once again and a superbly haunting vocal delivery from Mike.
The Tallest Tree, features the talents of Anthony Phillips on twelve string and fans of his may well recognise the tune as it is She’ll Be Waiting with new lyrics by Mike. A delightfully whimsical evocation of departure from loved ones. Mr Hackett also features on this one on lead guitar but the song is only augmented by the presence of these two prog giants, this is the true heart of the album, a track I could listen to forever.
All These Things is the main pivot of the album, a superbly crafted long format examination of relationships, loves, lies and much much, much more, all delivered in fine prog form by the entire band. I love the organ part which to my ears has echoes of classic Twelfth Night (nowt wrong with that) but the lead guitar part here is absolutely stunning, hard rocking and superbly executed.
Ondine’s Song (where have I heard that name before…?) brings the album to a suitably more restrained close, once again there is some fine ensemble playing from the entire band and I am pleased to say that with this album, The Gift have truly come of age, a present day classic that I heartily recommend.
The Gift: Why The Sea Is Salt. Bad Elephant Music BEM034.
And finally… for something a little bit different. Some of you may recognise the name David Jones as David is the bass player with Genesis tribute band, Mama but what you may not realise is that David is also part of the intriguingly titled Nerve Toy Trio whose hilariously titled album, Accidental Bar_B-Que recently arrived here at TWR HQ.
Featuring three “suites” if you can call them that, with individual tracks between them, here we have a meeting of jazz and fusion which latter-day King Crimson fans will thoroughly enjoy. However with titles like Beans Means Nines, Pease Please Me and Chip Shop Suicide, and the musicianly joke, All Walk Into A Bar Of Seven - geddit, no one can accuse the members of this trio of being pompous or pretentious.
No indeed, what you have here is a superbly constructed melange of excellent instrumental music in which substance takes precedence over style which is as it should be. Free form extemporisation laced through with humour and above all superb musicianship. It might not be rock ‘n’ roll, but I love it!
Nerve Toy Trio - Accidental Bar-B-Que.
For further information : www.nervetoytrio.com